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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on the 10th day of the Hebrew month Tishri and is the culmination of the High Holy Days. After the 10 days of repentance between Rosh HaShana (the New Year) and Yom Kippur, God's judgement will determine who will live another year.

It is a solemn day, when Jews wish each other "Gmar Hatima Tova" - ("May you be sealed [in the Book of Life] for good"). When the Temple stood, this was the day the High Priest brought the blood of the sin offering into the Holy of Holies to atone for the nation of Israel.

In the afternoon before Yom Kippur begins, Orthodox Jews go to the mikveh (ritual bath) and then dress entirely in white, symbolizing the promise of forgiveness (Isaiah 1:18). Families gather for a "closing meal" of bland, filling foods that will not provoke thirst. For Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and prayer, intended to bring the Jew closer to God through true repentance. Afterwards, the men walk to the synagogue wrapped in their tallit (prayer shawl).

The entire country closes down on this day (Numbers 29:7). No one drives, so the streets are empty, radio and TV go off the air and the international airport is closed. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Israeli Jews observe the 25-hour fast, in which people neither car nor drink.

At the opening synagogue service on Yom Kippur eve, the cantor (hazzan) chants the Kol Nidrei, a proclamation of release from all unfulfilled vows to God made rashly or under duress. In preparation for Kol Nidrei, the ark is opened and congregants pray Psalm 97:11 three times.

The Kol Nidrei dates back to at least the 10th century. In the 15th century in Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or be expelled or executed. On Yom Kippur, these conversos (converts), who were forced to live as Christians all year long, met in secret to annul their vow before God; they were still Jews.

The haftorah (reading from the prophets) is the Book of Jonah, a story that speaks of repentance and return to God. At the closing Ne'ilah prayer, congregants repeat the 13 attributes of God's mercy (Exodus 34:5-7), followed by the Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), and the Shema (Hear O Israel – the watchword of Israel). Finally, everyone affirms in unison, "Adonai, Hu Ha'Elohim" (The Lord, He is God), seven times, and the shofar (ram's horn) is sounded, bringing the Holy Day and the fast to a close.

On Yom Kippur Jews who have not yet accepted Jesus (Yeshua) into their lives may understandably be uncertain as to whether God has truly forgiven their sins.